Kentucky Native Darlene Hunt Launches New FOX Sitcom Series
Writer / Julie Engelhardt
In January a new prime-time series hit the air on the FOX network, one that has a special connection to Louisville: Darlene Hunt.
The new series is “Call Me Kat,” starring “The Big Bang Theory” alum Dr. Mayim Bialik, who is known for her roles in the movie “Beaches” and on her own series, “Blossom,” which aired in the 1990s. The new series is based in Louisville and the main character, Kat, is a 39-year-old single woman who owns a cat cafe (in case you weren’t aware, we have a cat cafe in Louisville on Bardstown Road). The show is based on the British program “Miranda.”
It’s no accident that Louisville was chosen as the setting for this series. The program’s creator, executive producer, showrunner and writer, Darlene Hunt, was born in Shively and grew up in Lebanon Junction, but she spent quite a bit of time in Louisville. She still has familial ties in Mount Washington.
If Hunt’s name doesn’t ring a bell, the projects and programs she’s worked with might. She appeared on several episodes of “Parks and Recreation” as the character Marcia Langman. She’s written for “Will & Grace,” “90210,” “The Goldbergs,” “Save Me” and “Roseanne.” She was also a consultant for the show “The Conners.” Hunt is the creator of the popular program “The Big C,” which aired on Showtime from 2010 to 2013. She’s also performed in films such as “I Heart Huckabees” and “Idiocracy.”
Like many who head towards their calling in entertainment, Hunt began her stage career while she was a teen.
“I honestly just kind of had an instinctual draw to it, even though there was no theater program at the high school at the time, and I don’t know if there even is one now,” Hunt explains.
She knew, however, that she wanted to be a part of the speech team at the school.
“I thought that sounded so cool and exciting,” she says. “That was a great outlet for me and I just loved it. I even missed my high school graduation because I’d qualified for speech team nationals and it was held in New Orleans that year. It was literally during the time when my graduation was being held.”
As Hunt’s desire to perform grew, she says she began searching for opportunities to hone her craft.
“I would look in the newspaper for auditions, which was rather ballsy of me because I was just this kid on a farm and I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says.
She discovered that StageOne Family Theatre was holding auditions, so she asked her parents to take her.
“I think I typed up a resume, but I have no idea what was on it,” she says. “I have no idea what I would have conjured up.”
She got a part playing a munchkin in a production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“That was such a huge, crazy thrill,” she recalls.
When asked if she’d ever performed at the Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville, Indiana, she replies, “I can’t sing and I can’t dance, so musical theater wasn’t an option. If I could sing and dance I wouldn’t have left. I thought theme parks were the be-all and end-all of performing. If I could sing and dance I’d be at Dollywood right now in a show. I would have just lived and died in Sevierville, Tennessee.”
After high school Hunt decided to go to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to study theater. She’d been advised by a high school counselor to attend that university, plus she received advice from Moses Goldberg from StageOne to go there as well.
“I think Northwestern taught us a lot about paving our own way and creating our own performance experiences,” she says.
Hunt appeared in various plays during her college years, plus she and her friends would create and produce their own small productions to perform.
“We wrote a children’s show and ended up touring to various states and schools,” she recalls.
That was her first experience with writing and getting paid for it.
“To this day, I probably still make $25 a year from that show,” she says.
Hunt continued on, doing what she calls ‘metaphorical tap-dancing,’ to find work in the entertainment industry.
“I even did stand-up comedy for a while,” she says, adding that this helped to perfect her writing skills.
She also found work acting in commercials in Chicago, which led her towards attaining her Screen Actors Guild card. Her next move was to Los Angeles.
Her big break occurred in the early 2000s.
“I had an idea for a play – sort of a comedic, 45-minute kind of series of sketches, or one-act plays,” she says. “I did it with a friend from Northwestern, and we performed it in and around Los Angeles.”
This friend happened to be friends with actor Sean Hayes, who was starring in the NBC comedy “Will & Grace” at the time.
“Sean came to see the show and was like, ‘I love that so much! Can I be in it with you?’” Hunt recalls. “I was like, ‘What is happening?’”
Hunt wrote a part for Hayes, a ‘Kentucky guy’ character, as she describes it.
“He started performing in our production, and when that happened, this little play that we were doing, that our friends would come see – there was a line around the block,” she says. “People were dying to get in to see this show because Sean Hayes from ‘Will & Grace’ was in it.”
Talent agents interested in working with Hayes came to see the show, and fortunately there were agents there who discovered that Hunt had great talent as a writer, and who wanted her to sign on to work with them.
“The creators of ‘Will & Grace’ also came to see the show and they asked me to write an episode for the show,” Hunt says. “That was my first writing assignment.”
The episode was titled, “Dyeing is Easy, Comedy is Hard.”
Hunt says her writing career turned towards selling television pilot ideas to networks.
“It was exciting, but they were never picked up to go to series,” she says.
She then pitched the pilot of “The Big C” to Showtime and it was picked up.
“It was my first experience selling to a cable network,” she says.
Hunt’s hard work and tenacity through the years definitely prepared her for the multiple roles she holds producing “Call Me Kat.” It’s been a perfect fit.
“I had tried to pitch shows that were set in a more rural area, to sort of honor the rural area where I grew up,” Hunt explains. “I wanted this show to be a little more urban than that, but I didn’t want it to be in New York or L.A. It should feel kind of more normal.”
She saw her new series as a chance to honor Kentucky, so she pitched the idea of setting it in Louisville.
“I gave Mayim the opportunity to change that if the idea of Louisville didn’t speak to her,” Hunt says. “She’s from San Diego, so I told her we could set it there, but she had just come from visiting Louisville and she was on board with the setting. She was like, ‘Louisville is so cool and so great.’”
Hunt does what she can to incorporate Louisville landmarks into her show.
“I’ve never written a show where I’ve referenced the town so many times,” she says. “I’m just doing that instinctively because I love shouting out to Louisville.”
If you’re wondering what those shout-outs entail, references have been made to the University of Louisville, the characters being “Cards” fans, Churchill Downs, The Brown Hotel, the Courier-Journal, and bourbon tasting.
“I hope people will stick with our show,” Hunt says. “TV is kind of a living, breathing thing and it evolves and moves forward, and I feel like we’re just hitting our stride. I hope people become invested, as we really want to tell this genuine story of a woman of a certain age that may not be totally represented on TV. There’s a lot of heart in the show. It’s a bit of a love letter to Louisville.”